Donald Trump has had border problems. Mexico was never going to pay for that wall. When he had majorities in both the House and Senate, his own party told him American taxpayers weren’t going to pay for that wall either. Privately they told him that his sea-to-sea giant wall just couldn’t be built – the topography made that impossible, and grabbing the land that was needed for what was possible, from his own supporters using eminent domain law – was going to make some folks very angry. Okay. But then he had to talk about how his sea-to-sea giant wall wasn’t that at all. That’s not what he meant. But a lot of wall would be built. In fact, a lot of wall was being built. People pointed out that no, it wasn’t, and that made him very angry. No one shows him up, but nothing was going right. When families, with children, crossed the border, he had his folks grab their kids and put the kids in detention centers and then send them off to foster homes or wherever. There was no plan to reunite the families, ever. That would stop all these people from showing up and turning themselves in and asking for asylum. He couldn’t change the law – that’s how our asylum system works. Show up. Turn yourself in. Ask. But this would slow these people down. Take their kids from them. Let them know they’d never see their kids again. Then all of this would stop.
That didn’t work. There’s something about the government grabbing kids from desperate and confused parents and putting those kids in cages for later disbursement that just didn’t sit right with at least some of the American public and most everyone else in the world. The idea that these were criminals and the United States government grabbed the kids from these nasty criminal parents, for the kids’ own good, really, was a bit of a stretch. Few parents bought that idea. Fox News did what it could, but this seemed reprehensible, at least to parents. There are a lot of those around.
Then there were the caravans. These people were forming caravans and that effort was financed by George Soros and one particular Jewish Relief agency. And these caravans were not all mothers and children but rapists and murderers and drug dealers and gang members, and Islamic terrorists, and all of them had leprosy and other diseases – and this was really an invasion. Or it was an “infestation” to be stopped – but the damned lying media – but not Fox News – kept showing footage of women and children, and interviewing them. That was the run-up to the midterm elections. Trump and the Republicans shouted STOP THE CARAVANS! Democrats talked about health care and jobs, and won forty more seats in the House and took it back from the Republicans. This wasn’t working and the guy killing all those people in that Pittsburgh synagogue – because he had heard those folks supported the one particular Jewish Relief agency that supported the “invasion” – didn’t help matters either. And now Trump couldn’t count on the House to help him with any of this border stuff.
This new House said no money for the wall, again, so Donald Trump declared a national emergency. He’d take money that Congress had appropriated for other things and spend that money on his wall. Congress does not get to say where and when and how the government’s money is spent, if there’s an emergency. He’d take money for military schools and FEMA and whatnot and spend it on his wall. Congress said no – this is not an emergency and he cannot do that. They passed that legislation. He vetoed it and they didn’t have quite enough votes to override his veto – so he is moving funds around. Congress no longer has the “power of the purse” – it’s his government now, not theirs. But nothing is better on the border.
People keep showing up and asking for asylum. He’s toyed with the idea of getting rid of all those immigration judges. Those people cannot ask for asylum, in court, if there’s no court – but that was just a random thought. The big idea was shutting down the entire southern border – maybe “next week” – so nothing moves in and out of the country anywhere down there. Then the Mexicans would have to do something, or face economic collapse. They’d make sure no one from anywhere got anywhere near our southern border.
A few weeks of that, or a few months of that, would do the trick – but every Republican and most of the business community said that WE would face economic collapse too. The two economies are interlocked. Don’t even think about it. So Donald Trump had to back down again. Mexico now has one year to stop each and every asylum seeker – and all the drug traffic too – or else he’d pull the trigger, in one year, but he might just impose massive tariffs on their cars first – on the Ford Fusion, all RAM trucks, and the Chevrolet Silverado. The three major auto makers here have a year to discuss this with him.
But he’s angry, damn it! He has announced he will cut off all aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the nations all these asylum seekers are fleeing. He’ll punish those nations. Things will be even worse there, even more unbearable. That’ll teach them something or other. And of course more people will now flee those three countries. Diplomats weep.
Nothing is working. It might be time to rethink all this, or rather than facing the shame and humiliation of admitting he might have been wrong about some of these things, it might be time to find someone else to blame for this mess. He’s Donald Trump. As the team at the New York Times reports, his claim is that all of this was not his fault:
Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, resigned on Sunday after meeting with President Trump, ending a tumultuous tenure in charge of the border security agency that had made her the target of the president’s criticism.
“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Ms. Nielsen said in a resignation letter. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”
That was defining the problem. There is Donald Trump. There is his temper. There are the problems on the border. There are the laws. Something’s gotta give. It might as well be the laws we have, and that is what this seems to have been about:
Ms. Nielsen had requested the meeting to plan “a way forward” at the border, in part thinking she could have a reasoned conversation with Mr. Trump about the role, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She came prepared with a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with the president.
Mr. Trump in recent weeks had asked Ms. Nielsen to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers, which Ms. Nielsen found ineffective and inappropriate. While the 30-minute meeting was cordial, Mr. Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it.
He said ignore the law, she said she really shouldn’t, nor should he, and he got angry, and she gave up, because this wasn’t going to work out, and she should have gotten the hint:
The move comes just two days after Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly expressed anger at a rise in migrants at the southwestern border, withdrew his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement because he wanted the agency to go in a “tougher” direction.
No one knew what the hell that was about, no one really objected to that guy, so that must have been a warning, to everyone, and to her, because Trump is all-in now:
Mr. Trump has ratcheted up his anti-immigration message in recent months as he seeks to galvanize supporters before the 2020 election, shutting down the government and then declaring a national emergency to secure funding to build a border wall, cutting aid to Central American countries and repeatedly denouncing what he believes is a crisis of migrants trying to enter the country.
He took aim again Sunday night after announcing Ms. Nielsen’s departure, tweeting, “Our Country is FULL!”
That may be his new campaign slogan, and those four words would fit on a red hat as well as the other four did last time around too, but this won’t be easy:
The president said in a tweet that Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, would take over as the acting replacement for Ms. Nielsen, who became the sixth secretary to lead the agency in late 2017. But by law, the undersecretary for management, Claire Grady, who is currently serving as acting deputy secretary, is next in line to be acting secretary. The White House will have to fire her to make Mr. McAleenan acting secretary, people familiar with the transition said. Ms. Grady has told colleagues that she has no intention of resigning to make way for Mr. McAleenan.
Does this administration think anything through? Of course not:
The president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum. She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.
Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further. The president’s fury erupted in the spring of 2018 as Ms. Nielsen hesitated for weeks about whether to sign a memo ordering the routine separation of migrant children from their families so that the parents could be detained.
She came around and did sign that memo, but she wanted to follow the law, and perhaps some principles of common decency, or at least, for political purposes, the appearance of some principles of common decency, but there’s the young zealot from Santa Monica and the old man from Fox:
Mr. Trump and Stephen Miller, the president’s top immigration adviser, have privately but regularly complained about Ms. Nielsen. Lou Dobbs, a Fox News host who is one of the president’s favorite sounding boards, has also encouraged Mr. Trump’s negative views of her handling of the migrant crisis.
She had scruples. She came around and supported the president, every time, but she hesitated too often. Those two guys did her in, and the writing was on the wall:
Multiple White House officials said she had grown deeply paranoid in recent months, after numerous stories about her job being on the line. She also had supported the Immigration and Customs Enforcement nominee Mr. Trump withdrew, Ronald D. Vitiello, and her support for him was described as problematic for her with the president. Mr. Trump felt Mr. Vitiello did not favor closing the border, as the president threatened again to do in a tweet on Sunday night.
And this sort of thing buried her:
In early 2019, as the number of migrant families from Central American countries surged, the president’s fury at Ms. Nielsen did, too. He repeatedly demanded that she cut off foreign aid to Central American countries even though the funding was the responsibility of the State Department. She repeatedly deflected his demands.
One day after Ms. Nielsen traveled to Honduras to sign a regional compact with officials from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Mr. Trump cut State Department funding for the countries. And in recent days, the president made public moves to undercut her authority, leaking news that he might nominate an “immigration czar” to assume oversight of the issue at the heart of Ms. Nielsen’s department.
She wouldn’t do what she couldn’t do and Donald Trump was going to humiliate her for that, but this was never going to work:
Ms. Nielsen never learned how to manage Donald Trump, people familiar with their discussions said. He often felt lectured to by Ms. Nielsen, the people familiar with the discussions said.
And his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was not an admirer of Ms. Nielsen, several administration officials said. That came to a head recently as Mr. Kushner had inserted himself into immigration discussions.
She argued the law in this White House. She was doomed.
Dara Lind puts that this way:
Nielsen, the sixth head of the Department of Homeland Security and Trump’s second appointee (she was confirmed in December 2017 after John Kelly left to become White House chief of staff), has arguably been the most aggressive secretary in the department’s short history in cracking down on immigration – with her legacy likely to be defined among progressives by the “zero tolerance” prosecution policy of late spring and early summer 2018 that resulted in the separation of thousands of families at the US-Mexico border.
None of it appears to have been enough for Trump…
With nearly 100,000 migrants apprehended by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border in March, Trump is yet again ruminating angrily and obsessively over immigration, riffing in speeches about telling migrants “we’re full” and “go back.”
Nielsen couldn’t make that happen, because no one could, because it’s impossible. The US can’t – even with a wall – physically prevent the entry of unauthorized immigrants onto US soil. And once on US soil, they have certain rights – including the right to request asylum.
Some things are impossible, and Stephen Collinson sees this:
The forced resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is not just the usual story of an administration racked by chaos and the short shelf life of almost everyone who works for an imperious and grudge-bearing President.
Nielsen was hardly a moderate out of step with President Donald Trump on his signature issue of immigration. She became the administration’s public face of the zero-tolerance policy that caused widespread outrage after hundreds of migrant children were separated from their parents.
But she is nonetheless paying the price for a crisis exacerbated by the President’s decision-making amid a major surge in migrants crossing the border.
And others have paid that price for the odd decision-making here:
It’s a sign of a government stocked with acting secretaries and hampered by thin personnel benches, stretched beyond functionality by Trump’s impulses and the most prodigious staffing burn rate of any modern President.
Nielsen’s ouster fits with a pattern of Trump forcing out officials who have pushed back against his more radical instincts or been unable to carry them out, or who have earned his ire for being unwilling to match his defiance for governing practice and convention. They include former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ex-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and former chief of staff John Kelly.
But this time Collinson sees more:
Nielsen’s demise is the clearest indication yet of the impossibility of reconciling Trump’s ideological and emotional instincts on immigration – which helped make him President – with legal, humanitarian and international realities.
Nielsen “believed the situation was becoming untenable” with Trump “becoming increasingly unhinged about the border crisis and making unreasonable and even impossible requests,” a senior administration official told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.
The border mess really got to Trump, but he’s easy to get to:
Her departure mirrors that of former Defense Secretary James Mattis last year, whose authority was shredded by a sudden and apparently spontaneous announcement of a Syria withdrawal by the President, but who had gradually grown apart from his boss.
In both cases, the complexity of serious policy problems, often in life or death situations, clashed with the political instincts of a President who abhors detail and prefers to govern from the gut, while ignoring conventional expertise – even from subordinates that in no way could be considered moderates.
And the man does seem unhinged at times:
Last week, he was forced to climb down on a public threat to close the southern border after officials, business groups and political leaders warned of a pending economic disaster if he went ahead.
He covered his blushes by going on a tear on immigration, with some of the most unconstrained rhetoric on the issue ever heard by an American president that was scorching even by the standards of Trump himself.
“Can’t take you anymore. Can’t take you. Our country is full … Can’t take you anymore, I’m sorry. So turn around. That’s the way it is,” Trump said in a message to asylum seekers during a trip to the border on Friday.
A day later, Trump mocked those fleeing persecution seeking a better life in the United States, portraying asylum seekers as criminals and gang members, rather than the families Nielsen described in a CNN interview last week.
“‘I am very fearful for my life,'” Trump said mockingly during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition on Saturday. “I am very worried that I will be accosted if I am sent back home. No, no, he’ll do the accosting!”
“Asylum, oh give him asylum! He’s afraid!” Trump said.
That’s fairly disgusting, but possibly effective:
Attempts at reaching a broad political solution on the border have been complicated by Trump’s choice to use immigration as a rallying call for his base and his adoption of rhetoric that stains any political common ground.
He has several times pulled out of immigration deals with Democrats that might have helped mitigate the situation at the border apparently because he feared a backlash from his most fervent supporters and cheerleaders in conservative media.
Democrats complain that the so-called master of the art of the deal wants to win on all his immigration priorities while offering nothing in return — for example a path to legal status for people brought to the US illegally and who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
They also argue that his rhetoric is incompatible with the founding principles of a nation built on immigration.
“When even the most radical voices in the administration aren’t radical enough for President Trump, you know he’s completely lost touch with the American people,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday, remarking on Nielsen’s departure.
But he’s not lost touch with all of the American people. There’s still his base, and they’re as angry and impulsive as he is. And no one is radical enough for them. No one is nasty enough for them. And the president was angry and embarrassed, so someone was going to get fired. That’s just another day at the White House.